Engineers Redesign Roads to Save Moose

“SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – At night on a dark country road, all that the headlights catch are the shadowy legs the size of tree trunks rising out of the pavement. Standing six feet at the shoulder, weighing up to 1,000 pounds, with massive antlers more than five feet across, moose tower over automobiles and have no fear of them.

Increasingly the undisputed giants of the northern forest are tangling with traffic as they expand south. Massachusetts motorists hit 52 moose last year, a more than sixfold increase in four years.

For decades road officials have relied on warning signs and publicity campaigns such as New Hampshire’s “Brake for Moose” bumper stickers.

But now some traffic engineers around the country are experimenting with redesigning roads to accommodate wandering wildlife and using high tech laser and infrared devices, developed for space exploration and anti-missile systems, to warn motorists when a moose wanders into the road.

“We’re investigating ways to manipulate the drivers and also ways to manipulate the animals,” said John Perry, a biologist with the Maine Department of Transportation. “And when moose are involved, it might be easier to manipulate the driver.”

Moose, unlike deer and bear, are reluctant to use some of the new protective alternatives such as animal underpasses fashioned out of giant culverts, said Bill Ruediger, recently retired head of the U.S. Forest Service’s highway ecology program.

In a typical collision, the car hits the animal’s legs, causing the moose to crash down through the windshield, crushing the roof, and landing in the passenger compartment.

One in every 75 people who hit a moose is killed compared to one in 5,000 who hit a deer, said Bill Woytek, moose and deer project leader for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.”

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